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Supporting your child’s ADHD Symptoms

There are many different sources of information providing behavioural strategies for parents of children with ADHD. The following is intended as a starting point for parents. We encourage parents to read around this subject and attend a parenting course specifically designed for parents of children with ADHD if possible.

Why usual behavioural techniques may be less effective in children with ADHD

Many regular behavioural parenting methods require a child to listen, organise, plan ahead, remember, think before they act and be motivated by rewards.
Children with ADHD often have difficulties in some if not all of these areas. Therefore, the following adaptations to regular parenting techniques may help in children with ADHD:

  • Clear communication
  • Simple instructions
  • Small number of important rules
  • Regular and repeated words

In addition, when parenting children with ADHD, it may be helpful to consider the following:

  • Routine, Structure & Consistency
    • Fixed routines and structure are important in managing behaviour in children with ADHD.
    • Children with ADHD often struggle most during ‘in-between’ times, when they don’t have definite structure (such as in the classroom) and don’t have total freedom (such as in a playground).
    • Anticipating these times can make them easier to deal with.
  • Gaining attention
    • Eye contact- looking children in the eye, on their level. Making sure you approach them from the front, holding their hands out in front of them if appropriate.
    • Simple words- speak clearly, directly and address them by name
    • Show enthusiasm
    • Stepwise Instructions- clear, simple, step by step
  • Ignoring the unimportant
    • This can often be hard to do but concentrating on the ‘bigger battles’ and ignoring smaller, less important irritations, can often make parenting interventions more successful (and often more enjoyable for all).
  • Identifying triggers for unwanted behaviour
    • Identifying what triggers unwanted behaviour in your child (for example late nights, parties, visitors etc), even when you can’t avoid such situations, you can anticipate unwanted behaviour and therefore make managing these situations easier.

If your child continues to have behaviour that is difficult for you to manage, or your child is having oppositional or defiant behaviour, you may find the following useful.

Oppositional or defiant behaviour: ADHD

What makes a child oppositional?
There is probably a different answer for this question for every child identified as oppositional. However, some general explanations seem to apply to most oppositional children. First and foremost is that their oppositional behaviour pays off in some type of reward. Most often the children are not even aware of their own intentions. With this in mind, parents should not “blame” the child for his/her behaviour. Simply develop an understanding of the child’s motivations and the underlying/unconscious processes that control the oppositional behaviour. Most parents express that they don’t have a clue as to what is happening. To understand this more clearly we need to examine the focus of both the parents and child. When an argument occurs, the focus of the parent(s) is usually on resolution of the dispute. For the oppositional child the focus is not on the outcome of the argument, but on “winning” the argument. Winning does not necessarily mean the outcome of the argument leads to desired objects or activities. For the oppositional child winning means that he/she is able to demonstrate his/her power. Power can be demonstrated in a number of ways. For example, power can be demonstrated if the child is able to make the parent angry, cause an argument between mother and father, delay going to an appointment, or simply increase tension within the household. The point to remember is that the oppositional child is not interested in resolution or logical/rational solutions. The oppositional child’s focus is on “winning” as defined above. Parents on the other hand, find themselves frustrated and confused because they can’t understand “what is going on in his head”.

Respond without anger:

It’s important to respond to your OPPOSITIONAL BEHAVIOURS child without anger—try to be as calm and matter-of-fact as possible. Just acknowledge the behaviour, state it as you see it, explain how it will need to change and then remove yourself from all arguments. You really have to pick your battles and decide what’s most important to you—and ultimately to your child.

Be clear and consistent:
The nature of oppositional defiant behaviour is to wear parents down so that they eventually give in. You need to be strong, clear and consistent in your follow through.

Try not take things personally.
Do not take your child’s behaviour personally. When your OPOSITIONAL BEHAVIOURS child acts out, as hard as it might be, stay as neutral and objective as possible. You need to be clear and concise and not get pulled into a power struggle—it’s really not about you, it’s about your child and what they need to learn. We as parents sometimes need to be great actors and actresses with our kids. The key is to keep practicing calm, consistent parenting and following through.

Don’t be your child’s friend—be the parent:
Remember, being a parent is not a personality contest. There are times when your child won’t like you—they may even shout, “I hate you,” or call you foul names. But if you keep setting limits with your child and follow through by giving them consequences and holding them accountable, then ultimately, you’re doing the best thing for your child.

Be careful of what you ask
Once you have issued a rule or instruction, you shouldn’t back down. The primary rule is that the child must obey the parent – that means you! Asking children to do something means that if they don’t, you are going to have to apply the consequences. Make certain your order makes sense, is necessary, and is something the child can accomplish. Try placing your orders in the form of a request and use the magic words, please and thank you. Always attempt to convey respect and concern for the child’s feelings. Remember, much of the way children interact comes from modelling parent behaviour. Make certain the consequence is appropriate for the infraction. Be reasonable. Don’t restrict the child to the house for three months because he/she made a phone call after hours.

Parental Cooperation
In two parent households, BOTH parents must agree, be involved and committed to making the necessary changes involved in dealing with the oppositional child.

Remain calm and in control.
Issue consequences for misbehaviour when you’re certain you feel calm and have control of your emotions. Many times it is best to wait and issue the consequence sometime after you have become aware of the behaviour. This allows for both the parents and the child to calm down and rationally deal with the problem. Tell the child that you are aware of the misbehaviour and will deal with it later. If, when issuing the punishment, the oppositional child attempts to distract you with an argument, apply a 5 or 10 minute time-out to give them a chance to calm down. Explain to them the reason for the consequence. Be firm, fair, and remain calm.